10 States Urge Calif. Court to Delay Finalizing Gay Marriage Ruling

The attorneys general of 10 states have joined conservative legal groups in urging the California Supreme Court to delay finalizing its ruling to legalize same-sex marriages.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed late Thursday, the attorneys general said they have an interest in the case because they would have to determine whether their states should recognize the marriages of gay residents who got married in California.

The states involved are Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. Except for Florida and New Hampshire, all of them have state constitutional provisions banning gay marriage.

The attorneys general asked the California high court to stay its May 15 ruling until after the November election, when California's voters likely will decide whether to adopt a similar amendment, which would overturn the court's decision. The court's decisions normally take effect after 30 days.

What happens in California is being watched carefully elsewhere because unlike Massachusetts, the only U.S. state where same-sex couples can now marry, California does not have a residency requirement for obtaining a marriage license.

"We reasonably believe an inevitable result of such 'marriage tourism' will be a steep increase in litigation of the recognition issue in our courts," Utah Attorney General Mark L. Shurtleff wrote in the brief submitted on behalf of the 10 states.

New York Gov. David Paterson, meanwhile, has indicated that the state plans to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, meaning New Yorkers who get married in California would be entitled to spousal support, and other marriage rights at home.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown, whose office originally argued to uphold the state's one man-one woman marriage laws, submitted its own brief Thursday urging the Supreme Court not to grant the stay.

"The Court has declared the law governing the right of same-sex couples to marry, and the Attorney General undertakes to give effect to that declaration with no less vigor than he previously sought to give effect to the statutes in dispute," Brown's brief states. "It is time for these proceedings to end."

The Supreme Court has until the close of business on June 16 to decide on the stay request, but it also could give itself a 60-day extension to consider the matter. The California Office of Vital Records informed local officials this week they can start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on June 17, barring further instructions from the court.

"The court's decision firmly establishes there is a fundamental right to marriage equality for same-sex couples under the California Constitution," said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office joined two dozen same-sex couples in bringing the lawsuit that led to the court's 4-3 decision. "To deny that fundamental right based on speculation about what might happen in November is terribly inappropriate."

Ron Prentice, chairman of the coalition sponsoring the proposed California Marriage Protection Act, said he welcomed having other states support the stay request.

"Redefining marriage will affect the entire nation, not just California," Prentice said. "There is no good reason for these four judges to create nationwide chaos when a ballot measure to reverse the decision is pending before the voters."

More than 9,500 same-sex couples have wed in Massachusetts since gay marriage was legalized in 2004 by the state's high court.

The California ruling is considered monumental because of the state's population — 38 million out of a U.S. population of 302 million — and its historical role as the vanguard of many social and cultural changes that have swept the country since World War II.

California has an estimated 108,734 same-sex households, according to 2006 census figures.

Four states — Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire — recognize same-sex civil unions. Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia offer domestic partnership or reciprocal benefits laws that provide some marriage-like rights to same-sex couples.

Voters in 26 states have approved state constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage.

Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment empowering the legislature to outlaw same-sex marriage; lawmakers did so in 1998.